The Lionel Messi-Barcelona Breakup Edition

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S1: Hi, I’m Stefan Fatsis, and this is Slate’s sports podcast, Hang up and listen for the week of August 9th, two thousand and twenty one on this week’s show, we’ll wrap up our coverage of the Tokyo Olympics, which will be remembered for a pandemic, brutal heat, a gigantic financial losses and some sports, too. We’ll also talk about how the NFL is dealing with coronavirus vaccine hold outs like Buffalo Bills. Epidemiologists call Beasley and Minnesota Vikings public health expert Kirk Cousins. Finally, we’ll be joined by Simon Kuper, the author of the new book The Barcelona Complex, to discuss the tearful end of Lionel Messi his storied career at the Spanish football club. I’m the author of the book Word Freak A Few Seconds of Panic and Wild and Outside. I’m in Washington, D.C. and so is Josh Levin. He is Slate’s national editor, the author of The Queen, the host of Slow Burn Season four, and also of the new podcast series One Year about various goings on in the one year of 1977. Subscribe now. It’s great. Hi Josh.

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S2: Thank you for that lovely introduction, Stefan. Although I am a little jealous of Cole Beasley that he gets to be a public health expert tonight called

S1: Gísli as an epidemiologist, Josh Kirk Cousins is a public health

S2: expert. Maybe if I paid more attention than I would be a public health expert too.

S1: Yeah, it’s possible. Possible. In Palo Alto, California, please welcome Slate staff writer Joel Anderson, the host of Slow Burns Season three and the upcoming Season six, which he’s writing now. How’s it going?

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S3: Terribly, but eventually it’ll be over someday. And that’s what I look forward to every day. I mean, I guess it’d be better if I were, you know, public health expert. Actually, though, I would like some probably more of a public health scold than anything else

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S1: that we can put that in your title right now.

S3: Yeah, yeah. I mean, I think I’m one of the foremost scolds in American society today. Also, real quick, and I know this is not, you know, not the neat way for transition, but I just want to say, Josh, I was listening to one year over the weekend and I just think it’s hilarious and no disrespect to the dead, but that Elvis Presley actually died on a toilet because that’s one of those things you hear as a kid. And it just sounds so ridiculous that you think that people are making it up. But Elvis Presley literally died on a toilet. And I just I just can’t believe that it’s like one of those childhood jokes that is actually a real thing.

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S2: That is the takeaway from season one of one year. We like to tell everyone that one year and and enjoy learning or confirming things that, you know, as a child. There is a quote in Andrew Kay’s Olympics wrap up piece in The New York Times that I think is a pretty perfect summary of the Tokyo Games. It’s from Olympic historian David Wallechinsky, who is attending his 19th games. If it had not been for the pandemic, well, he said this would go right up near the top of the best organized Olympics. The top line thing about these Olympics now that they’re over, is that they happened when a lot of people in Japan and outside it said they couldn’t happen or shouldn’t happen. And for the International Olympic Committee and its various political and commercial partners, the fact that the Olympics happened is an amazing victory. And there were, as always, amazing victories in the Games themselves, moments of athletic brilliance and camaraderie and all that stuff. Writing in The New Yorker, Louisa Thomas suggests that Simon Biles is midair confusion. The twisties is maybe the best metaphor for the Tokyo Games. And so Joel, let’s play everyone’s favorite game. Complete that Olympic metaphor, shall we go with Byles knew when to quit before she hurt herself and the Olympics should have recognized the same thing. Or shall we go with Byles persevered. She got back out there. She won a medal pushing on when people said she shouldn’t, and proving that imperfection can be incredibly rewarding to.

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S3: Wow, I would prefer an option C, which is that I can both admire them for persevering in spite of all public health advice and, you know, better, better common sense while still thinking that maybe it shouldn’t have happened. I don’t know. I guess, you know, other than the Winter Olympics, which I pretty much never watch, this felt like the least joyful and celebratory summer games of my lifetime. And it’s totally understandable. Right. And that was totally foreseeable. We knew that this was likely coming into this, that we knew this was likely to happen coming into this three weeks ago. And I have to admit, on the level of Raul Chimpsky, like, I have to admit that pulling it off under these circumstances was logistically extremely impressive. There’s a lot going on in the world and it mostly went off as planned with no major disruptions. And that’s sort of an accomplishment in and of itself. But I would say that the Olympics show that we can move governments and people to take the necessary precautions if there’s something more than mere human lives on the line. I think that’s what I took from this as much as anything else, that if the Olympics there is mandated social distancing, testing and masking needed to pull this

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S2: off, we care more about the triple jump than human lives.

S3: Yeah, exactly. We see that it’s possible to get people moving in the same direction if there’s money or their own legacy on the line.

S1: Do you think Joel that it would have we would have moved in that direction if the Olympics were held in Los Angeles this year and not in twenty twenty eight or in another American city, do you think it would have galvanized the residents of of an American metropolis to behave differently?

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S3: No. Do you know. Yeah. Yeah. I don’t I don’t know what it is about Tokyo, but I don’t think that for whatever reason, we seem fundamentally broken over here in a way that

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S2: we just go right into our second segment that.

S3: No, no, but I mean, don’t you I mean, I don’t think I’m being too much of a grump when I say that. But but I think out of all of that, let’s not focus on the negative guys. I said that. Don’t you think Stefan that it was extremely impressive for them to just pull this off in the first place, even if I don’t necessarily agree with having it?

S2: I mean, you’ve got to hand it to him

S3: when we got to.

S1: I think you don’t actually have to hand it to them. I wouldn’t. I mean, look, they held them. The Japanese public was not that into it. The people that volunteered at the games and the people that were in charge of the logistics and pulling them off did, as they always do, made them look and feel to those who were inside, in this case, a bubble, like things were running really well.

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S2: Can we just bracket one thing for a second? Just the idea in general that people volunteer to give the Olympics free labor is generally kind of amazing. But in one case was like one of that is the biggest accomplishment of all. You know, we just have to say getting people to volunteer to be involved in this.

S1: But hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people, maybe thousands of people, I lost my train of thought. But I will say that, you know, the way to look at these games is through this refracted lens that I mean, on the one hand, this is always how we look at the games. Right. Like, the athletes are amazing. They’re inspiring. There are incredible stories, perseverance, injury, personal sacrifice that are really moving. And then watching them do what they do is remarkable. And then when we have to, even under normal circumstances, process the fact that they are largely being held for programming purposes and that the athletes are, in almost all cases, grossly under compensated for what they do and that these are a total scam on host cities and continue to be despite the IONSYS protestations that they have reformed the process for selecting her cities, it doesn’t leave you feeling terribly happy about the whole enterprise. And I think this year, this year, Just accent, that all of those negative things. So maybe Joel and I are just Grump’s and we are choosing to look at the bad shit about the Olympics and how a pandemic Olympics makes the Olympics look worse. But I think that’s incontrovertible.

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S3: Stefan I thought you being grumpier than even me. I thought you I felt like that was a total rejoinder to me saying, what are you going to give it to? But I don’t know what Josh clearly Josh is clearly the skeptic among us here.

S2: You don’t really know how I feel. I mean, I guess the thing that I would push, I don’t know if it’s even pushing back is just that it’s another example. All of how we I don’t know if embrace is the right word, but we’re accepting of the cognitive dissonance here, we all watched and enjoyed, at least to some degree. And if you stacked up against Rio or any of the games prior to that, if you if our joy buckets were, you know, two thirds as full, seven eighths or one fourth, I, I really don’t know. But it’s the thing that’s the most that was the most surprising to me about the games. If we go back to Byles for a second and Louisa in her piece, Louisa Thomas had a really good kind of wrap up about this, that symbiotes Allyson Felix Noailles, some of the biggest stars of the games, all basically said some version of either before, during or after they competed with with great sincerity, like. Winning doesn’t really matter. It’s OK that, you know, we either didn’t win, might not win, didn’t win as much, and given that the only reason to have these games. I kind of felt like going into them for the athletes was like just this sort of obsessive, monomaniacal devotion to their sports where. You’re driving towards this thing for four years, in this case, five years for your whole life. And so if they don’t exist, then what are you actually doing with your life for them to actually go to the games, perhaps? You know, as we’ve said, in spite of the best advice or, you know, sanity, go there and be like, you know what? This actually isn’t the ultimate thing and seem to mean it incredibly sincerely that, you know, it’s easy to say like this will change everything and everything will be different going forward. But it does seem different. Joel like that. That seems new and and good.

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S3: Yeah. No, I felt like this Olympics, I mean, for all sorts of reasons that are obvious that this will seem like a parent. You don’t mean like this. It seemed like an aberration because I didn’t it the stakes didn’t feel nearly as dramatic throughout from start to finish. And obviously, like, I can’t you know, I’m not in the mind of each individual athlete. Like, obviously, if you spent the previous five years building for this moment and you went home without a medal or you didn’t do as well as you did, and maybe you don’t feel the same way, but it it did not seem as dramatic or as electric as in previous years. And I don’t know what accounts for that. Maybe it was Simone Biles, because I think, you know, maybe maybe some of us. And that way is another good representative for it, because nothing that happened in Tokyo ultimately affected what we think of her or her reputation. Right. She did did about you know, if you Just if you if you’re being very clinical about it and cold blooded about it, she did about as poorly it you know, to the bottom line is we could have ever expected, but none of us thinks that Simon Bowels is a failure or that she did anything wrong or that this should affect her legacy or anything. And maybe that’s to me, sort of what I took from this games is that if you manage to thrive and prosper and do well, good for you. But if you didn’t, it almost kind of didn’t matter because everybody sort of understands that this was uniquely fucked up circumstances.

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S2: Hearing that the US men’s track and field team is like, phew, I can’t. That’s good that Joel is giving us a blanket excuse

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S3: for a brother named Lamont from El Paso. And I mean that confirmation anyway, Stefan.

S2: I think the only kind of individual team entity that this is just off the top of my head that I can think of as being like that was disappointing from a sports perspective. Was the US women’s national soccer team. I mean, they they still won a bronze medal, but they didn’t play well. Megan Rapinoe is clearly like, yeah, we sucked. That wasn’t that wasn’t great. But I can’t actually remember hearing any other team. Maybe, maybe this is just focused on the American teams and individuals, I can’t really remember anybody else speaking in that same way, focused on the athletic and Carlos focus specifically on the athletic side of things like I came here and I’m disappointed with my performance.

S1: I’m sure there are examples in sports that we weren’t paying as much attention to. But even with Megan Rapinoe, you know, the last image we have of Megan Rapinoe at these Olympics is of her leaning over a railing and hugging her partner, Sue Bird after bird and the US women’s basketball team won the gold medal. I mean, Rapino is an athlete

S2: and she got to go the corner, the Olympics.

S1: She’s an athlete in the good mold. She recognizes that you win, you lose. Other teams are trying. The fate of the US women’s national soccer team is not a globally important thing. And in the face of this weird competition, we lost. I mean, she said that it sucked, but we lost and things have to be different. But you know what? I’m going to go hug my partner because she won and I’m psyched about that. So I think that that yes, the sort of the absence of fans and the and the presence of the pandemic did help. I think people in their right minds understand better what sports are and should be. You know, Thomas Thomas Bach, the head of the IOC, spewed some bullshit, but he got to us sort of acknowledgement of that a little bit. I mean, he said the other day and this was quoted in Barry Svrluga of The Washington Post’s last column from the Games, when you were in the competitions, in so many cases, you did not realize, I’m sorry, I forgot to do my sport a great voice. You did not realize that there were no spectators. And maybe in some cases you could even experience the feelings of the athletes closer and better than being surrounded by so many spectators. And he’s trying to say like, oh, it wasn’t such a bad thing that we didn’t have any fans in the stands because there was a global pandemic and we pushed forward and had these Olympics anyway. But, you know, he’s right a little bit like when some Imbil said, I’m doing this for me. That’s not an expression of selfishness. It’s an expression of the distorted priorities of sports, that in gymnastics, these women were used and abused for generations and maybe that maybe that fans, people that watch this stuff can now have a better appreciation that athletes work and achieve and try for themselves, not for our entertainment, to try to, like, do great things.

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S2: That’s a good point. I do think Joel that for maybe all of us, but I think particularly the athletes that given all of the absence here, given the delay, given the struggle, it was a good opportunity to kind of check in with yourself and try to figure out why it is that you’re doing this. And Simone Biles, she had an answer to that before she got to Tokyo. I mean, she said specifically that she wanted to stick around the sport to put pressure on USA gymnastics to reform itself after the Larry Nassar travesty. But that was a lot of weight to put on herself. And maybe she found a different answer or added to that answer. And, you know, Allyson Felix, you know, the most decorated American Olympian in that realm ever writing before her final, that like she’s always defined herself too much by whether she wins or loses. And she was going to stop doing that. I guess if you participated in this event at all, you needed to justify it to yourself and think hard about what it it you know, in a in a pretty deep and meaningful way, like why it is that you do this thing that you do.

S3: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, although I would say that I imagine that this definitely brought that into sharper focus, that there was not going to be a crowd, you know, a stadium full of screaming fans, you know, none of the adulation or, you know, I guess I’m using the word electricity again that you normally get from this. Like this is your payoff for those, you know, years and years of solitary training and pushing yourself when nobody’s around. Like this is supposed to be the payoff. And if that’s not there, who are you still? And I mean, I can just say Just as a huge track fan. I mean, there were a number. I think there were maybe five or six world records that were broken this year, if this Olympics and if you watched, for instance, the 400 meter hurdles, which were the events of the games, I mean, those people are competing Just to compete, you know, like they’re pushing them. I mean, they push themselves and their sport basically to the edge, like, you know, we’ve since we saw performances and those events in particular and all throughout track that we’ve not seen ever before. So, I mean, I think we learned a lot about these athletes in that, you know, we learned, you know, how far their motivation pushes them and that a lot of it is internal that they don’t get. It’s particularly Olympic athletes. They don’t get a lot of the external validation that a lot of other people get. It comes internally. And I think that this was like the best expression of that. And, you know, actually, I thought about this because this, more than anything, got me excited about the Olympics. And I’m sort of it makes me feel like a basic bitch, a little bit of that when KDDI is kind of say that. And I like to say it’s OK.

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S2: I just I’m laughing about whatever it is that you’re about to say. I thought you were going to say when the Olympics theme song Swell Up and make Carrico said welcome to Tokyo, that that’s that’s what I think of as basic, but no continuo.

S3: Not the great Italian Mike Sirico. No, no. Actually, it was when CGY is walking back to from the game to the postgame press conference and he says the skill is unmatched. This skill is unmatched. You do. And like that’s just some real whoop and shit, you know what I mean? Like, it just nothing. OK, he’s just out there the ball on your ass. And he had this great performance. And like that is somebody who is like, I perform for performing sake. It doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s going to be a payoff there. I love my sport. And whether or not you guys are with it, whether or not, you know, the U.S. men’s team gets the support it should or not. I’m a be out here hoping. And I just thought that like that kind of summed up everything that I love about like these elite level athletes and why they do what they do.

S1: Yeah, I mean, the kid ends up being, you know, a really sort of, I hate to say heart

S3: warming, but

S1: he is inspiring because it you know, it’s like he’ll need to be there now. LeBron wasn’t there. Curry wasn’t there.

S2: Inspiring is an interesting choice of words. I mean, I enjoyed watching KD. Inspiring is an interesting choice of words. I feel like we should talk more about Kevin Durant and the bonus segment. What do you guys think? Should our Levin and other other things that we enjoyed or will remember? Oh, are

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S3: you trying to balance out our negativity at this segment? No, no, no.

S1: We’re just running out of time. Joel it’s time.

S2: Yeah. When I’m trying to balance out is that I have things that I Kevin Durant but feel like I should not say them for time purposes.

S1: And really, I want to talk about the rhythmic gymnastics controversy. So. All right, let’s

S2: do that in a bit.

S3: In the next segment, we’re going to talk about the NFL covid and its new face of vaccine, hesitant Kirk Cousins.

S4: Kirk, a lot of people are saying a lot of people are saying that that’s the quarterback, perhaps the most important player in the team with this happening, that you should be vaccinated. Are you giving consideration

S1: to being vaccinated?

S5: I think the vaccination decision is a private, very private health matter for me, and I’m going to keep it as such. I do believe that as a leader of the team, it’s very important to follow the protocols to avoid this close contact, because that is that is what is going to come down to is did you have a close contact? And so I’m going to be vigilant about avoiding a close contact. I’ve even thought about should I just set up literally Plexiglas around where I sit so that this could never happen again? I thought about it because I’m going to do whatever it takes. So we’re going to avoid this close contact thing. And and I look forward to making sure I’m playing for every game this year.

S3: That’s Kirk Cousins of the Minnesota Vikings, who is perhaps the league’s most prominent covid vaccine skeptic. Shout out Cole Beasley, SMU graduate and face of a team with the lowest vaccination rate, Kirk Cousins Messi for practice’s. Last week, after his backup rookie Kevin Bond tested positive for the virus. At the time, Kirk Cousins was considered a close contact. But Kirk Cousins remains unvaccinated in defiance of increasingly punitive league measures to prevent the breakouts that repeatedly disrupted the previous season. And last week, the league’s players association said it will propose returning to the league stricter coronavirus protocols. So Stefan we’re about a month away from the start of the regular season. Do you have any confidence that the league will be able to tame the Cousins’s of the league that and tell them and convince them that it’s worth? Getting a vaccination

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S1: right before I answer the question, we should recognize that the vast, vast majority of NFL players are not idiots. The league said last week that the rate of players who had received at least one dose of the vaccine had hit 90 percent. And what’s the public right now? Like 70 percent of adults, teams that were doing badly in terms of vaccine earlier in the summer have improved thanks to league run information sessions and pissed off coaches like Ron Rivera in Washington who had cancer. We might remember if we know anything about NFL players, it’s that if coach is pissed and he wants you to do something, you are far more likely to do it. Ultimately, NFL players care about one thing overall and that is keeping their jobs. But Kirk Cousins, isn’t it? And he told Kyle Brandt of the Ringer last year, survival of the fittest kind of an approach. And just say, if it knocks me out, it knocks me out, I’m going to be OK. Even if I die, I die. I kind of have peace about that.

S3: That’s the reverse drugger. If I die, I die.

S2: The rare reverse drag. I like that

S1: Kirk Cousins, as we heard just talking about like doing his own research, which is of course a typical right wing political line. And I should note, you know, it’s not a line that NFL players roll out when the team doctor says you should take a shot of Toradol. Nobody’s investigating, researching the effects of that. And, of course, Kirk Cousins isn’t alone. You mentioned Cole Beasley. He said he was pro choice and alleged that some sort of conspiracy to withhold vaccine information from players, DeAndre Hopkins and Leonard Fournette deleted social media posts expressing hesitancy about getting vaccinated. Dak Prescott said asking him about his vaccination status was a violation of APA, which of course it is not. Ty Hilton declined to answer using the Dodge line that it was a personal decision. I don’t know. Athletes are humans. They have lived experiences. They’re susceptible to propaganda and misinformation. The Wall Street Journal found that the US Olympic team ranked 14th of seventeen big delegations in terms of vaccination rate ahead of only Poland, the Czech Republic and Russia. So to answer your question, Joel, no, I don’t think Kirk Cousins, whose father is a bonkers conservative Christian preacher, will volunteer voluntarily get vaccinated. But I do think that the NFL and its players union, like other private businesses, should mandate vaccinations the way the league has already four coaches, front office executives, equipment managers and scouts.

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S2: I find this all to be. Infuriating and just like Covid, decreasing amount of patience for people who say the kinds of things that Kirk Cousins said and yet inspired by Joel wanting to, you know, focus on the positive. But that answer was hilarious.

S3: It was

S2: objectively hilarious. Just they kind of mapping of, like dumb football guy shit on to like vaccine denialism Just. I will never forget the I will surround myself with Plexiglas if that’s what it takes.

S1: Lying to see the boy in the plastic bubble, the John Travolta 1970s after school. Oh yeah, I still get it. But until he develops an immune system of his own, he’ll have to remain in his protective environment.

S3: Are we talking about days or weeks or months?

S1: Years. That’s what I’m imagining. Kirk Cousins the boy in the Plexiglas bubble.

S2: Yeah. Just this idea that, you know, we’re going to we’re going to attack, you know, we’re going to do everything that we can except doing the actual thing that one should do to really attack this and make sure that we’re out there every game for my guys. And I mean, and it’s funny to me in particular that he’s a quarterback because so much of the way that we talk about quarterbacks forever, but also I think increasingly now is about. Yeah, like it’s you know, the physical side of things is important, but it’s about understanding the game and really being able to, you know, be prepared and have this connection with your teammates and being smart and nice. And just like this is just clearly someone who’s an idiot. And we still have to kind of pretend like he is the genius leader of the team who is like, you know, guiding everyone, you know, on the on the Minnesota Vikings. It’s more

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S1: than that. It’s like he’s right. He’s indispensable. He’s the senior qua non, you know, for the Minnesota Vikings.

S2: So that’s great. I don’t think that we know that he’s no evidence that this has to do with him, but it’s a good line anyway.

S1: Mike Zimmer, the head coach of the Vikings, is angry about this. I just don’t understand. I think we can put this thing to bed if we all do this, but it is what it is. The owner of the team isn’t happy about this. I don’t see why Cole Beasley or Kirk Cousins. Should be playing in the NFL, why are teams keeping them around, play fuckin Chalamont and blame Kirk Cousins for the team’s disastrous season?

S2: He would probably be allowed to know

S1: that he would chalamont vaccinated. I’m not sure

S2: Kirk Cousins would probably be elected president if he gets cut because of his beliefs. But we don’t we don’t have to spin out that disaster scenario.

S3: Yeah, I mean, there’s just a certain amount of shamelessness that we allow publicly and of public figures today, like maybe we didn’t even allow two decades ago, I feel like. It would have people where is willing to sound that dumb publicly as they are now and have a chorus of people supporting them along the way. So that’s that’s sort of the change that even if 90 percent of the league is vaccinated, which is way out ahead of the rest of us, there’s still a very vocal, stupid minority out there. And they get affirmation and they get deferred to. I mean, how many pieces have we seen? You should be, but we should be nice to people that refuse to get the vaccination at this point. And so we there’s a lot of coddling

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S2: of we haven’t been seeing as many of those recently. I feel like the national mood is changing. The interest, the interest of the vaccinated and being nice to the unvaccinated has declined precipitously.

S3: Yeah, that’s true.

S1: That’s true. But I still you know, but I go back to this like the Vikings basically fired Rick Dennison, an assistant coach who wouldn’t get vaccinated. The Patriots let a coach go because he wouldn’t get vaccinated or it was related to the covid-19 vaccine and NFL guidelines, as ESPN reported. I just don’t understand, you know, why Kirk Cousins is on the team

S2: Stefan because he’s the twenty third best quarterback in the NFL Stefan you can possibly replace

S1: him. I mean, as a culture, obviously, we have a great difficulty saying no. But in this case it’s like to what end like fire these guys.

S3: Don’t you think this is the beginning of the end for Kirk Cousins in Minnesota? Like, I think this is like, OK, like he’s on his way out and I don’t know how it’s going to happen. But if your coach is against this, if your owner is against this, if the league mood is against this, I don’t think that he can prevail. But I think what’s

S1: really it’s why does this need to be slow?

S3: I mean, I assume for union reasons, right, that, you know, that it doesn’t fall explicitly under the category of reasons you can cut a player. I think there’s like three primary reasons you can cut a player. And I don’t know that this neatly falls into one of those. And so there’s they’re just

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S2: waiting for him to throw an interception, right?

S3: Yeah, they’re just waiting for him to be Kirk Cousins.

S1: They’re waiting for all the quarterbacks to be able to participate in practice.

S3: Right. Right, right, right. Once you start playing and then it becomes apparent, even more apparent why you shouldn’t be playing him. But I just think about like think about the politics of the league and the people who own and run these franchises. They’re much more likely to side with Kirk Cousins and like Greg Abbott, the Texas governor, as opposed to like Jay Inslee, the Democratic governor of Washington. But yet and still they’re fine with these mandates and protocols because they care most about the bottom line and maybe winning. Right. And it puts a team at a distinct disadvantage if the vast majority of the team isn’t vaccinated for logistical reasons as well as competitive ones. So the NFL and its players union has realized that it is responding accordingly. And it’s just weird, like that’s why Kirk Cousins stands out right now, because it’s not even your Republican owners in this league think that this is like getting in the way of making the money and moving forward. And you’re still standing athwart history here and the public mood. So, I mean, you know, we did sort of pick on Kirk Cousins for this. But it’s important to note note that he is like a distinct voice in this instance that he’s not he doesn’t represent the league and doesn’t represent where the league wants to go on this. But he may represent the Minnesota Vikings. As you know, the team with the league’s lowest vaccination rate.

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S2: A lot of Republicans are pro vaccine, even ones that were anti vaccine. What’s happening with with Delta, like people have changed their minds. I wouldn’t be so confident that they’re like NFL owners who are like silently cheering on Kirk Cousins as brave stand against tyranny. But I you know, I honestly don’t know

S3: what maybe it’s a politically untenable thing.

S2: Yeah, but I would I want to circle back to, you know, at Stefan said it was, I think, really smart to open this by talking about how a higher percentage of NFL players by a huge number is vaccinated than the American public. And it reminds me of this kind of perpetual conversation that we have about NFL players and criminal behavior that there’s this focus on and rightly so, issues of domestic abuse among players, for instance, but the vast, vast, vast majority of NFL players, and probably more as a percentage than like age matched people in society are like. Not doing the wrong thing, whether it’s about this or anything else and the high profile DIDs and again, whether it’s Deshaun Watson or Cole Beasley and those are obviously very different offenses and and behaviors. But these high profile cases affect everyone in the league, the perception of everyone in the league. And sometimes that perception is by people who are not being intellectually fair and honest and who are just using it for their own political and cultural purposes or whatever. But I do but I do think that there is some legitimate feeling like, oh, they’re all you know, if you if you hadn’t said that statistic, I think I might have gone to the segment and be like, what’s wrong with NFL players? But you sort of, like, snapped me back into focus there. And so it gets me back to the players union issue. It’s like these people are not doing any favors to anyone or anything in the NFL. Like this is the thing where the players, the vast majority of the players and ownership in the league should all be aligned, that these guys are like being are doing really bad thing for the league, for competitive reasons, for publicity reasons and all of it.

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S1: Right. And it’s giving a platform to the outliers. I mean, there’s a dude on the Miami Dolphins who caught 12 passes last year who’s getting stories written about him saying that he’s not going to let the league strong arm him into getting the Covid vaccine. And and it’s a personal choice. I mean, had you ever heard of Adam Shaheen? I hadn’t. But here he is, like getting this friggin platform to spout this nonsense that runs counter to what the vast majority of his coworkers believe and how they have behaved.

S3: Right. Well, I think, you know, what notable by its absence is people who’ve spoken out against the Adam Sharleen’s right. That specifically people like somebody on the Vikings saying, hey, man, Kirk Cousins is being stupid and this is unacceptable. We have not heard that, though. And some of that suggest that. I mean, the NFL is out ahead of the rest of us. And that’s important to remember, as you all have smartly mentioned. But the league has created these incentives to get their players in line, even if they don’t want the vaccine. Like it’s if you if you’re responsible for causing a breakout, you can cause not only your own teammate to miss a paycheck, but the opposing team to miss a paycheck. Your team can forfeit a game like they’ve made it so potentially punitive that if you don’t, you would not only risking your own livelihood, but you’re risking the livelihood of a bunch of angry, pissed off due to work out for a living.

S2: Well, this connects with what we were saying Joel about the Olympics and your point that, you know, we can get together and do things, maybe even things that we shouldn’t be doing if there’s a financial incentive and imperative. And then you said maybe not in America. Well, this is that that example, right?

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S3: Yeah, this is it right here. They’ve made it. I mean, they’re offering. I mean, they’re saying also, if you get vaccinated, you don’t have to go through all these bullshit protocols, man, or or less, at least for now. Right. Because they want to tighten up these protocols. But they’ve made it compelling for you to go ahead and get your vaccination. They’ve given you a good reason to go ahead and do it. That’s not something that’s necessarily happening in some broad, coherent, comprehensive way in American society. And so you can see the effects of doing that sort of stuff and how you can, you know, get better vaccination rates where the rest of us are just sort of, you know, begging and pleading with the unvaccinated amongst us. So the anti vaccine amongst us to please go get it, because it’s good for everybody else. But people are like, well, what’s in it for me?

S2: So Stefan, what do we want to see then? Do we want to see the 90 percent of players that are vaccinated come out and sign some statement from everyone saying basically Kirk Cousins and call Beesley and you know, Leonard, Fournette and DeAndre, whoever like you are fucking up and like we all stand against this and like, you get your act together.

S1: Yeah, I like that. USA Today did a profile of the linemen for the Kansas City Chiefs Durant DuVernay Tardif the other day and it talked about how he opted out of the twenty twenty season to work with Covid patients. He’s a medical school graduate. He’s a doctor. The story didn’t ask him or didn’t address how he feels about teammates that might be unvaccinated or players in the league who might be unvaccinated. I don’t know why I haven’t you know, I didn’t look that hard to see if he has commented publicly about it, but that dude should be doing a you know, he should be gone from training camp to training camp talking to players, let alone not not only on the chiefs, but on other teams. So, yeah, I do think that players should be doing more and it’s easy for us to say they should be doing more. They’ve got the daily grind of, you know, 14 hours in the facility and two days and their own worries about making the team. But it seems like this is low hanging fruit for the players union and for the league itself to enlist smart, thoughtful players who are willing to speak some truth to their colleagues, you know.

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S3: You know. But also, could it not be that people see that the league is talking tough out of both sides of its mouth because the NFL still has plans to pursue one hundred percent capacity at its games this regular season? Like that’s that’s not off the table. That’s still the official policy of the league that they that’s what they’re they’re reaching for. So they’re saying, hey, are you up here, you know, at the forefront? I want everybody to get vaccinated, but get you still you want to pack in your stadiums?

S2: Well, I mean, we haven’t really talked about it, this event, but everything just seems kind of up in the air this moment because of the Delta variant. And so I don’t think we should. You know, carve anything into stone, and I’m not sure if the NFL is going to be willing in this season after last season to be like, let’s pump the brakes on this, or if they’re just going to be totally for for revenue reasons or perception reasons, like we just got to be at full capacity. But all of that just seems like up in the air at this point for me,

S3: maybe everybody can just get in a Plexiglas bubble and fit everybody in.

S2: Up next, Simon Kuper, a Lionel Messi leaving Barcelona.

S1: In early 2001, at the age of 13, Lionel Messi traveled to Spain from his native Argentina to play soccer at FC, Barcelona’s renowned youth academy, La Masia, at age 17. He joined the club’s senior team 17 seasons and six hundred and seventy two goals. Later, at a tearful gathering at Barcelona’s headquarters on Sunday, Messi said goodbye to Isabella. And the truth is, I don’t know what to say here. He says, these past days I’ve been thinking, giving lots of thought to what I could say. And the truth is that I can’t think of anything. This is really difficult for me after so many years

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S6: out of the area. When we visited the economy before the downturn,

S1: you Simon Cooper is a columnist for the Financial Times and the author of the new book, The Barcelona Complex Lionel Messi and the Making and Unmaking of the World’s Greatest Soccer Club, which is out next week. He joins us from Valencia, Spain. Welcome to the show, Simon, and congrats on the excellent timing of your book.

S7: Thank you, Messi. Fix it together.

S1: So Messi is reportedly signing with another European superpower parece Saint-Germain.• Barsa as a tribute over the weekend. Streambed all of his goals. It took five hours and 15 minutes. This was one of the vanishingly rare examples, Simon, in modern sports of an athlete and a club connected almost spiritually. So why is this breakup happening?

S7: Yeah, I think it’s the happiest player club relationship in modern sports history. Any sport, really? Why is it happening? It’s happening because Barcelona ran out of money. That debt is now about one point four billion dollars, which is pretty unprecedented in soccer history. They are spending more on player wages than their entire revenues. And so even after he agreed to a 50 percent pay cut, they still couldn’t keep him. They probably couldn’t even have kept him if he’d have agreed to play for nothing. Spain’s football league’s financial rules just forbid this overspending. Now, it was the end.

S2: Yeah. I mean, it reminds me of the kind of joke in journalism that the maybe the revenue model should be the get the writers to pay us to publish things. Maybe Barcelona should have an Messi pay them for the privilege of playing there. But the kind of interesting dynamic here, Simon, is that Messi and it seems like he was being incredibly truthful and open, was like I wanted to leave last year and he ended up staying. And now he says, I wanted to stay and now he’s having to leave.

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S7: Yeah, he was very surprised. I think when he woke up on Thursday morning, he thought, well, I’m about to sign this new contract with Barcelona, 50 percent wage cut. I’ll still be the best played soccer player on Earth, which is more important, I think, in prestige terms than for what he does with the money he lives in this sort of Californian millionaire’s mansion. So it’s not the most extravagant place you’d find on the top of the hill. He’s not that interested in bling. He in soccer salary is status. And so he thought, I’m going to stay. And then Barcelona had been economical with the truth. I hadn’t really told him or the fans or the media. We’ve totally run out of money. We can’t do this anymore. So when they sprang it on his representatives and on Thursday, it was a real shock for him.

S3: So, I mean, I guess my question is, so Messi willing to take fifty percent pay cut, which is remarkable and that’s not enough. So how does one of the most legendary sports franchises in all of sports, you know, with an attraction like Messi, like the first, you know, in the world to earn a billion dollars in revenues, how does it find itself in this sort of financial trouble, though?

S7: It’s overspending on transfers and on wages. So between twenty, fourteen, twenty nineteen, under the mismanagement of ex-President Bartolomeo, they spend more than a billion dollars on transfers, more than any other club in soccer. And if you think that for Ousman, Gambella, Philip Coutinho and Enten, each month they spend a total of over half a billion dollars combined. And these guys have not produced and then you get the salary spiral. So Messi had a rolling contract. He was free to leave as a free agent at the end of every season. So his father, his agent would come to the club all the time and say, you know, my son could leave this summer. Why don’t you up his salary? And the club thought, well, we have all this money coming in, why not? And so Messi salary trebled in about five or six years to this sum that made so eager to buy and president laugh when he saw it. And of course, when Messi gets a pay rise, the agents of all the other players go to the president and say, well, you know, clearly my guy has to earn 10 percent or 20 percent or Messi. And so the whole team gets a pay rise. So they were locked in the spiral of spiraling wages and debt transfers.

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S1: How much of the assignment has to do with the structure of Barcelona as a business? As a club? It’s different from a lot of other clubs in Europe and certainly from the system that we’re accustomed to in the United States.

S7: Yeah, I mean, it’s not a business at all. It’s a member owned club. It’s sort of like an amateur club, you know, involving Just local people who are members. One hundred and fifty thousand members. And they are essentially the owners with the club can never be sold. And so it’s not there to make a profit. Nobody at the club cares about making a profit. It’s there to. Play good football, beautiful football, Messi became the symbol of the club, so he had to be kept whatever happened, so his salary had to rise. So, yeah, this is not a commercial entity. This is not like the New England Patriots.

S2: It just seems on the one hand, when you explain it, like, obviously this had to happen, it was inevitable. There are certain, like realities financially that made this a necessity. But on the other hand, it just seems like he is like a pillar there. He’s like something structural, like like he’s a part of the the stadium or something. And it just feels like in sports and especially big money sports, like there’s always kind of a way out or there’s always a way to find another billion under the cushions of the couch. And so I guess even though like. Oh, yeah, you know, a billion dollars, that seems like a lot of money to to not have it. Still, there’s something about it. And it seems like for Messi to the Just fundamentally feels shocking that they couldn’t figure out some way to like get a loan, you know, do something to to make it so that this could work somehow.

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S7: Yeah. I mean, they borrowed half a billion from Goldman recently, but it’s just that Spain’s financial rules, because about a decade ago during the global financial crisis, all the Spanish clubs incurred debts they could never repay. And then they said, guys, we’re going to have austerity, strict rules. You can’t run up debts anymore. Of course, Barcelona could borrow from someone, but the league’s financial rules don’t allow it.

S2: But the fact that they kept the rules in place, even when they Messi potentially like that, surprising that they stuck to the rules and didn’t make an exception for Basel and Messi.

S7: Yeah, it is. I mean, I think it’s partly because Cristiano Ronaldo, the other greatest player of our times, left the Spanish League three years ago. Neymar left four years ago and it had no noticeable impact on revenues of the league. You know, people, TV companies around the world was still paying huge sums to Spanish league matches. And, you know, there is a sense in it like Barcelona is one hundred and twenty two years old. This club will be here long after Messi. So you don’t want to tie the entire future of the club to this guy. The other thing about being a member on club is that you can’t just bring in a sheik or an oligarch and say, you know, put in a billion dollars and we’ll sell you a stake or the entire club as what happened in England in Spanish soccer where Madrid and Barcelona. It doesn’t work that way.

S1: But isn’t there a little bit of cutting off their nose to spite your face here? Sure. A La Liga will endure. Barcelona will endure. Real Madrid will endure. But the reality is that the money that football league’s generate from broadcast revenue and online revenue is dependent on global interest in the teams. Isn’t there a calculated risk here that La Liga without Lionel Messi is a vastly diminished sports property worldwide? This is a club that thought it was going to bail itself out of out of its financial problems by being part of this super league, which collapsed spectacularly and hilariously. And now it’s losing the greatest player maybe ever.

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S7: I mean, it is a diminished property without Messi, but people have been watching Spanish football for decades around the world and maybe some fewer people will watch. Maybe more Chinese kids will switch to Manchester City from Barcelona. But, you know, Barcelona was a huge club in the 70s when it wasn’t on global television, when there were no merchandising rights. And it’s going to be a huge club in the twenty twenties and La Liga will remain big. The thing about soccer is it’s infinitely schwenk about the economy. You can have a soccer club which has zero revenues. You just don’t pay the players anything and you won’t be very good and you can have a billion euros revenues. But it’s still the same club in the same stadium with the same shirts and the same emotional attachment. So I agree that soccer club shouldn’t have to be in this race to constantly keep their revenues rising, because we know 20 years ago when the revenues were relative to peanuts, they were popular and just fine, too.

S3: So I want to I wanted to kind of dig down a little on that because you mentioned Barcelona. One hundred twenty two years old. Don’t want to tie, you know, the future of the club to this one guy. That one guy that happens to be Messi. Right. But there’s a generation of fans who don’t know a Barcelona without Messi. So for people that are unfamiliar with the club itself, like what does Barcelona look like without Messi like in the past, like, has it been this global phenom that it was that it’s been grown into in the last few decades?

S7: Not really. I mean, Messi and the clubs rise to greatness coincide. And it’s not only because of Messi Messi comes at the start of the thousands. He makes his debut in 2004 as part of this, which turns out to be incredible Spanish generation who all come from the club’s youth academy savvy on this. And yes, Jared Piqué and the Spaniards in the team like win the World Cup in 2010 without Messi. So these are incredible players as well as this whole generation comes out of the academy together and between twenty sixteen. Twenty fifteen, they win the Champions League four times. Well, that’s four times more than Barcelona had ever won the Champions League in their history before Messi arrives. So really before Messi, this is not a great club. This is just the club of the second city of a mid-sized, not very rich European country. So the years of greatness, I think, with hindsight, will say were brief and beautiful and maybe no club has been played better soccer than Barcelona did in the Messi years. And there is no kind of recapturing of that era. And remember, Messi is thirty four. So even if you keep him but playing in a very weak team because there’s no money to have other good players, you’re never going to go back to that glory days. And last year without him with him last year, they finished third in the Spanish league.

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S1: Is there a chance that I mean, is there a way for Barcelona to do what American sports teams do, which is tear down and rebuild? Part of the problem that Barcelona seems to be that there’s been bad management on the soccer side as well as on the financial side, they

S2: should have traded Messi for a bunch of first round draft picks.

S1: I mean, this is a team that turned down offers for killing kimbap. And Earling Holland, two of the best players in Europe right now when they were teenagers. I mean, is there a way out of this competitively and financially for Barsa?

S7: I mean, if you turn out to have been incredibly lucky and brilliant and picking young talent both from your own academy and what they did last year with Beedi, they both for a basic fee of five million euros, which is nothing. Age 17, kid from the Canary Islands just played the Olympic final with Spain. There’s been a revelation, you know, if you can do that five times over, which is very difficult, then suddenly you have the kind of the equivalent of five first round draft picks that is very hard to do. And then the last 10 years have given no signs that they have the nous to do that. I think the problem is they stop thinking when you’re number one, you stop thinking. And clubs like Liverpool and Bayern Munich and Manchester City just thought hotter in the last decade.

S2: What for you is the moment for Messi and Barsa that whether it’s a game or a goal or something else, that really stands for the kind of synergy between him and the club at its at its peak

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S7: in the Champions League final at Wembley in London 10 years ago, Barcelona, Manchester United, Manchester United were English champions. You know what had thought they might be the best team in Europe? And they were played off the park by Messi in Barcelona, the first 20 minutes after half. I mean, I say in the book, Guardiola says, this is what we were aiming for. This is the kind of football we had in our heads. And I think I and 90000 people, even Mannu fans, left the stadium elated that day. We saw soccer that we will probably never again see in our lives of a quality and a beauty that even Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager, he said, we have never been beaten like that.

S3: So it just seems like you’ve been preparing for this day for a while, right. That people have been sort of gearing up, that the end was going to come regardless. It just maybe happened a little sooner than people expected. Does that seem fair?

S7: I think that’s fair. I mean, when I started the book in twenty nineteen, I thought, well, we can all see the cracks in the ceiling, but the cathedral’s not about to collapse. And I was thought I was going to write a book about the greatness of the club and I have, but I’ve also written a book about the decline and fall and suddenly the cathedral collapse that probably happened last year and now kind of the angel on the Alyssa is disappeared. And this has happened way quicker than we thought. But, you know, no, human creation is forever. And I think we’re all dwelling now on the downside and the mismanagement and the disgrace. But I think we should also remember this was this unique thing that they created in this relatively small town. And people will remember forever the shock that they saw. And there’s no way that’s going to last. I mean, Barcelona is not New York. Barcelona is not London. This is a one off.

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S1: Simon Cooper is a columnist for the Financial Times. His new book is called The Barcelona Complex Lionel Messi and the Making and Unmaking of the World’s Greatest Soccer Club. You can preorder it now. It’s out next week. Simon is also the author of other terrific soccer books, including Soccer Nomics, Soccer Against the Enemy and the Soccer Man. Simon, thank you so much for coming on the show.

S7: Thanks, all of you.

S1: Now it is time for after bawls, I mentioned that Lionel Messi scored six hundred and seventy two goals for Barcelona. The first one was on May 1st, 2005, at home against Albacete de Messi wearing number thirty, not number ten, came on as a sub in the eighty seven minute for Samuel Alito. Two minutes later, the great Ronaldinho beat two defenders and scooped the ball over three more defenders and on to Messi left foot Messi then chipped it over the keeper and into the net. Alas, the linesman erroneously ruled that Messi was offside. No matter four minutes later and extra time, Ronaldinho again scooped the ball over the defense and Messi again Lectureship to the keeper. It is glorious. Go look at the video clip. The goalkeeper was Raul Valbuena man, not a famous keeper. He played a bunch of seasons in lower leagues in Spain and a few in La Liga. Giving up Messi first goal ensured, however, his immortality. The press has called me every time Messi has broken a record or achieved something important, he told a reporter in twenty fourteen. It seems like a funny anecdote to me and my career as a goalkeeper. No, it did not bother me. In the end, it is simply a goal which is true. It was simply the first time of hundreds of times that Lionel Messi made a fool out of a goalkeeper. Joel what’s your Raul Valbuena?

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S3: I like that guy’s approach Just just one goal. And actually I wish I could have borrowed Stefan to pronounce some of these names for this after all. But so much of our attention to the Summer Olympics is directed at medals and who can win the most of them, especially here in the States. We come together every four years to valorize and celebrate the most prolific winners, from Michael Phelps to the Chinese table tennis team to Allyson Felix. They live on as athletic legends forever, international icons who represent the grandest ideals of the games. They get the Wheaties boxes. They’re still Wheaties boxes, right? I think think they’re are there. Maybe they still like Wheaties and Nike ad campaigns or athlete the ad campaigns and the key to their respective hometowns. I mean, why do you think it is that we still know of nineteen seventy six Olympic decathlon winner Caitlyn Jenner after all these years. But is the Tokyo Games come to a close? I wanted to flip the standings a little bit and look at the bottom. Yay, USA and all of that. The Americans won the most medals overall for the seventh consecutive Summer Olympics and they won the most gold in Japan. Good for us, Pat, on the back. But I wanted to take a moment to specifically salute the countries that finally added themselves to the overall medal standings over the past few weeks. So according to NBC Olympics, dotcom, 71 countries into Tokyo never having meddled in any sport ever in nearly 40 percent of those nations are in Africa. So using the Washington Post data, I wanted to see which countries broke their forever medal streak amid the Olympics were more countries than ever. 88 brought some hardware home and I counted three countries that were offered. That was San Marino, which won a silver and two bronzes Turkmenistan, which won a silver in Burkina Faso, which took home a bronze. And if I missed a country, it’s NBC, as The Washington Post felt. OK, but anyway, let’s start with that bronze which was won by male triple jumper you, Fabrice Zango Zingo won the first medal for the West African nation since it began participating in the Olympics in nineteen seventy two, and he won it in Burkina Faso’s Independence Day. But in spite of all those celebrations going on and those to come in his homeland, Zango said he was, quote, pretty sad about his performance and couldn’t figure out why he couldn’t put it all together at the Olympics. So for a little perspective, earlier this year, Zingo set the world indoor record in the triple jump. He was considered one of the favorites coming out of Japan, but as far as two jumps was sort of disappointing and left him in danger of not placing until his third jump went. Fifty seven feet, three inches. He made it to the medal stand by the skin of his spikes. Basically. Now Zingo will go back to jumping in the professional diamond league and finishing out his Ph.D. in electrical engineering, which may be the reason for his disappointing performance. In an interview with Reuters after the event, he said, and I quote, I haven’t been able to work on everything because I didn’t have a lot of time. So maybe with a Ph.D. in my pocket, I will try to be more professional and athletics. The triple jump bronze medalist trying to be a little more professional. That’s Olympic indeed. So Turkmenistan had its big day a couple of weeks ago when weightlifter Paulina Kaavya took home a silver medal. It was the first Summer Olympics medal for Turkmenistan since it began competing in nineteen ninety six Turkmenistan. Some of you will remember was part of the Soviet Union for most of the 20th century and didn’t declare its independence until 1991, and Polina Guevarra, formerly a gymnast who transitioned to weightlifting, which is not something we hear a lot about. Right. At least I haven’t. Maybe that’s more common, but I did not know that that was the thing Pollino won in the twenty nine kilogram group, which translates to about one hundred and thirty pounds. News reports said she excelled particularly at the snatch and clean and jerk, just like me. And that helped her to clear that sweet, sweet silver for Turkmenistan. And finally, we come to San Marino, which had gone sixty one years and twenty four Olympics. That’s 14 in the summer and 10 in the winter without meddling a single time. But in Tokyo won three medals. Little San Marino big winner was Alessandra Parioli, who won the first medal a bronze on July twenty ninth in the women’s trap. And for people that are unfamiliar with that, such as myself before this, it’s a shooting event may be best known domestically as international clay pigeon. Two days later, Parioli team to John Mark Oberti in the mix trap team final to win a silver and San Marino closed out its hefty haul last week when Miles Amena won bronze and the eighty six kg freestyle wrestling event to do the conversion for our listeners again. Eighty six kg is about one hundred and ninety pounds. What a day to be. Some Iranis tweeted this San Marino fan account indeed three for little San Marino. And you know, to borrow and maybe mangle a common sporting phrase, San Marino is punching way above its weight class. It’s now the smallest country by population to ever win an Olympic medal, narrowly edging out Bermuda and Liechtenstein. San Marino has about thirty three thousand six hundred people, which is roughly the lives of like Juneau, Alaska. Right. And as our good friend Josh wrote movingly on this exact day ten years ago of San Marino and the micro universe of little countries, San Marino is a curiosity among the curiosities. Indeed. So, look, I mean, we know the Olympics are largely dominated by huge wealthy international superpowers like the United States and China. They have the most people and the most resources in the medal standings tend to reflect that every four years. Most of the drama we see on TV is manufactured to draw upon our sympathy for our own athletes who have to overcome challenges like an injury or a previous Olympic failure. But athletes like Zingo, Parioli and Kaavya and their tiny little countries getting their moment on the stand and in the headlines is probably one of the few redeeming qualities of this billion dollar boondoggle, let alone a billion dollar boondoggle in the middle of a global pandemic. The Olympics can never truly be worth the expense and waste and political corruption. But if we’re going to be beholden to this international spectacle every four or five years, might as well pass some of that hardware around here.

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S2: Here, just love to see San Marino get its moment in the spotlight. I can’t believe that was ten years ago. The big man little country is serious.

S3: August 9th, 2011. You would writing dispatches from San Marino. Did you remember that?

S2: They surely do. It was an amazing trip. And that trip ended with the small states of Europe games, which was like a mini Olympics in Liechtenstein for these countries to allow them to actually win something. But even in that, even in those games and so the countries that competed there like Iceland was the United States of the small states of Europe games, they were like there’s Iceland, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, San Marino, Monaco, Malta, Cyprus. There are probably a few others that I’m forgetting. San Marino didn’t win Jasco in that thing. I mean, they might have won a little bit, but they certainly were like way, way, way down at the bottom of the medal table. And so to see them actually win three medals like you might, you might think that it’s like amazing that a country of like thirty thousand people won three medals. I’m here to tell you that it’s like way, way more exciting than you even thought that it was.

S1: But is it also possible that the medal winners were just sort of, you know, they got their San Marino passport and they had been trained elsewhere and.

S2: Oh, what are you trying to say?

S1: I’m not trying to diminish San Marino, his accomplishments at all. I’m just

S3: trying to. When you’re suggesting chicanery

S2: is afoot, do you have anything to back that

S1: I have? No. I’m asking you as a San Marino expert, Josh, if you’ve looked into the the provenance of these athletes,

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S2: look at me. Naturalization. I mean, are we should we take away the American basketball gold medal because Hakeem Olajuwon was naturalized? I don’t

S3: know. Why did you go after I came there?

S2: I’m just I’m. Saying that Stefan is attacking Akin by proxy, basically. I mean, if we’re going to if we’re going to say that countries that it’s like scandalous that athletes are competing for

S1: the word scandal

S2: then or weren’t born in, then we’re just gonna have to cancel the whole Olympics, my friend.

S1: I know that. I’m just I just want to know more about these athletes and where they came from.

S2: Nobody nobody stopping.

S3: I mean, we can do that retroactively. Award the gold to the United States in the men’s 100, because as we know, Lamont, whatever Jacobs said, I mean, is sort of a Texan, but definitely was born in America.

S1: That’s our show for today. Our producer this week was Alyssa Edes to listen to past shows and subscribe or just reach out, go to sleep. Dotcom’s hang up and you can email us that hang up at Slate dot com and please subscribe to the show and rate and review us on Apple podcasts for Joel Anderson and Josh Levin. I’m Stefan Fatsis remember Zelma Barry. And thanks for listening.

S2: Now it’s time for our bonus segment for Slate plus members and let’s pick up where we left off in our Olympic’s segment. I promised to share your thoughts on Kevin Durant. I don’t want to disappoint the listeners. Actually, I wanted to talk more about the men’s basketball tournament in general and as Americans. But I think particularly with the men’s team, there is this very kind of solipsistic tendency to view every result as some sort of referendum on the program, on the players involved. And if they win or occasionally lose, it’s just about, oh, they didn’t prepare enough. They didn’t. These people opted out, whatever, whatever. But I watched most of the games and the thing that I came away thinking and please check me on this, if I’m incorrect, is that these other teams were not good. And like and I’m not and I’m not insulting international basketball at all, I just think they weren’t

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S3: up Gregg Popovich would be so they

S2: weren’t up to the standards of like previous Olympic cycles in terms of quality. I mean, this France team that they played in the final really go back maybe could have gotten some run, although who it if Rudy Gobert was on the U.S. team, he wouldn’t have, you know, the reason to have him would have been to defend Rudy Gobert. So you get into some sort of like weird wormhole situation, but it’s like is Evan Fournier getting, you know, run on the, on the U.S. team. And it’s, these are not like the Spain teams of old or the Argentina teams of old Just like Australia team that everyone was talking about was like so great and played that well together. Like, these guys are not this is not like an amazing collection of talent. And the thing that I was disappointed by was that there didn’t end up being like a Luca vs. US game because he is the guy in the NBA and in this tournament who could have given these dudes trouble. And so I don’t know if that’s more solipsistic or less to be like, yeah, they won, but like all these other teams were just kind of ass.

S3: I don’t know. I mean, I think that you’re probably right. Like the

S2: Spain team that they played was basically the same Spain team of like nine years ago, except these dudes are just like all like, oh, I thought they were retired, but they’re still playing

S3: it right now. I mean, I hear that I think that maybe the top line talent on the international teams is isn’t of the pedigree of old ones like the old. I mean, I can’t I’m really aging myself. And I say the old Yugoslavia teams with Vladivostok’s and soon as shallowness and, you know, whatever. But like, when I

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S2: was in Argentina, like that was like a legit squad. And like this

S3: the Spain team is the Barry isn’t as good as it used to be internationally, but that four through 12 is much better than it used to be. And so, like, that’s what makes the teams a little bit better, a little bit more versatile and a little bit better challenge what is effectively the USA is beating in a way that, you know, all of the teams that are that were left in the knockout round, all of those teams have eight to 10 pros at least, and maybe they’re not good pros, but they’re pros, whereas previously it was like three old world players and nine, you know, sort of marginal international stars. But maybe I’m wrong about that.

S1: And when you say pros, you mean NBA

S3: players, NBA pros, right. Exactly. Yeah.

S1: Yeah. I mean, I think that’s fair. I mean, it doesn’t matter who the it still doesn’t matter, you know, which of the top 50 NBA players, American NBA players play for the United States. They still, you know, are going to be as a collective, more talented once they play together a little bit and also once they get some rest after the end of the season, say that.

S2: But if Kevin Durant isn’t on this team, they don’t win. I think that’s that’s pretty.

S1: I frankly, I think that’s true. Right. I mean, there’s a should hear, right? Like, you should be able to put together a team of top 50 NBA American players that wins this. But that doesn’t mean it’s always going to happen. I mean, part of that is selection. And part of that is who chooses to come and who doesn’t choose to come. Part of that is injury. And it’s not to say that those those issues don’t affect other countries either. But it is weird still that we go into these Olympics thinking that they should never lose a single game in and, you know, in warm up games or in the tournament itself. I mean, the US lost the game in this tournament. They lost to France in the first round.

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S2: What would possibly lead us to think that the fact that they basically never lose the you know, it’s right to focus on on Durant. But Jrue Holiday, the fact that I would not have guessed going into this that he would be like the second most and indispensable guy on this team given like all of the levers that he put in in the finals. And actually he was like way more consistent in this tournament as both a defensive and offensive presence than he was in the NBA playoffs. We had these moments of brilliance and moments of, you know, shooting three for twenty two or whatever. Right. Well, I think

S3: they needed his defense. I don’t know about you all, but I felt better with him out on the floor than Dame Lillard and Dame Lillard is probably the only other player on the roster that would have been considered a top ten NBA player and he was a liability in Tokyo. I mean, people went at him on defense. He’s not a natural ball distributor, so or natural distributor. So it he didn’t necessarily have what the Americans needed. So I was a little bit surprised.

S2: It was interesting and surprising. Yeah, definitely.

S3: That Jrue Holiday was like the better fit. Right. But yeah. I mean I think that’s the thing that I mean, you know. We talked about you said you want to say more about Kevin Durant, but Kevin Durant, man, I guess that skill is unmatched. Line just made me feel so good because, I mean, now we’re you know, we’re shitting on the international team, so they’re not as good as they were. But I mean, we hear so much over the years this narrative about European players and American basketball players, which is the American players are athletic marvels who can hold off the more skilled teams of Europe or those with Western influence. And Katie is saying, nah, fuck that, man, I’m good. I’ve got a lot of skill. Don’t take this for granted. I’m not just tall. I’m not just athletic. Like I’m the most skilled player that many of you all have ever seen in your lives. And I like if only for that, I’m happy that the Team USA won to push back a little bit on that narrative, at least.

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S1: Yeah. And I think what the Olympics do is they bring out these hosannas for certain players that demonstrate their interest, their willingness to participate in this. And that’s what we saw from Gregg Popovich, who was the head coach, and from Steve Kerr, who was one of the assistant coaches talking about Durant. I mean, not only praising his otherworldly basketball abilities, but the fact that he wants to do this and that he’s willing after being injured and after a season in which they were eliminated earlier than they might have wanted to be eliminated, that he was able to sort of take a team that lost a few games and bring them together. And he’s being given the credit for all of that. And that is sort of Olympian, right, in its analysis of what the, you know, participating in a team like this means.

S3: Also, maybe to start with the Sydney McGlaughlin thing. I don’t know. I do think that she’s photogenic and great, obviously, but I don’t find her to be particularly charismatic, like when she’s interviewed. She’s not an exceptionally warm which is fine, like she doesn’t have to be. But I think that that and they and they have I mean, yeah, it’s not a problem for Michael Jordan, for instance. Right. But no, I think that she’s still young. I think that she maybe not quite is open and warm and self-effacing is like Allyson Felix has. But keep in mind, Allyson Felix had to build herself into that role like

S2: but compared to like Caleb Dressel and like I mean, Caleb Dressel won a lot of gold medals. Nothing. I don’t want to take anything away from my man, Caleb Dressel, with a really interesting sleeve tattoo. But you would have thought that this guy was, you know, Michael Phelps. Right. Plus whatever. I mean, the kind of promotional might that was put into making Caleb Dressel a thing. It’s pretty strong. And they were correct. He was a thing, but it was pretty staggering.

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S1: I mean, he was kind of a thing. I mean, once you sort of listen to him talk and sort of watched the the promotional stuff, he was not Michael Phelps. He was not that impressive. And I think you’re right.

S2: He was a thing in terms of he won like a lot of gold medals.

S1: Right. But clearly, they wanted to do that with him. And they seemed NBC seemed reluctant to do that. I mean, Justin Peters and Slade did a piece about this. And, you know, part of the reason that he points out might be that track is week two of the Olympics. So gymnastics and swimming suck out a lot of the hype from the Games because they happen first. And gymnastics and swimming also have a lot of events. So you see these athletes from multiple nights as opposed to for the, you know, ten, 20 or 40 seconds or 50 seconds for these individual races. And that might have something to do with it. But I don’t think it has anything to do with it. I mean, Gabby Thomas was another one, right? Maybe she wasn’t a gold medal favorite, but could you craft a more desirable track icon? Harvard graduate, African-American, really brilliant. I mean, with aspirations beyond sports. I mean, what a great what a great figure.

S3: I think that second thing, the African-American part is part of the reason why it’s more difficult to sell track to a casual sports audience than maybe other sports. Right. I mean, like there’s actually not been that many American major American track stars in the history of the sport relative to how long it’s been there and how dominant we’ve been. You know, we hear a lot more about our gymnasts and swimmers than we ever have about I mean, just think of who’s the last major male track star in this country, probably Carl Lewis. Like I said, I can’t think maybe. I mean, it depends on what you think about superstar, but it’s not like Michael Johnson was like this major national hero for how dominant he was.

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S2: Yeah. And for all we’re talking. About Allyson Felix and what an icon she has and how great she is, the general awareness in America of her would maybe be like what a quarter of car looks like. She’s not she is not super.

S3: And she was she was clearly the the the star of the American Olympic track team. That’s the story that they built up. That’s the narrative that they wanted to sell. Well, I mean, it was she was only ever going to do so well, like, they built it up around a person who, you know, sort of got it was very fortunate to medal in our individual event, the 400. So it’s not like you could point to a you know, that she was going to be some sort of a dominant breakout star of the game. So you got track has a lot of things working against it, race, timing and yeah, just like not a history of very much interest, you know, around the country. So I think that that’s those are some of the issues because I mean, think about it a thing, though, who won the 800 meters and the women’s track and I think was the first American to win eight hundred and, you know, a generation or two. And she’s a freshman in college. That’s the person that has the make up of a breakout star. Right. Like, that’s who you want to sell, somebody that’s going to be here over and over again. And it really didn’t break through. And again, there are reasons for that. They’re why, you know, she may not get to be who Caleb Dressel is. It’s not all race, but I think that is a piece of it. And denying that her race plays a part of that would just be a little silly. It’s not the only factor, but I think it is one of the factors. And I think that’s why it’s difficult for track to break through. I mean, if you go to track meets around this country, right, major track marks around this country, it’s probably disproportionately, you know, supported by black fans. So I don’t know. You know, I you know, I I wish Aryan Knighton was, you know, more famous and had more people, you know, glommed on to his story. But, you know, but I mean, also to Josh Just earlier point, I think that the men are also particularly in a down cycle. The women’s track team like this is we don’t have a great there’s not even a Tyson Gay in the ranks this year. Like no allows was the big hope in the two hundred. And he didn’t do particularly well. So not as well as we can.

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S2: Christian Coleman wasn’t there because of

S3: the guy that there in 1917. Yeah. He said he was running a high school track earlier this year. So so maybe, you know, maybe in Paris that will be somebody you know, they’ve got a chance to build some stories for some of these people simply will presumably be back. So, you know, maybe there’ll be a chance to Vanderbilt some some heroes in the years to come. But I just think that this was

S2: a weird year. Plus, Mondo Duplantis was pole vaulting for Sweden

S3: instead of you go in. Your boy Javon was a Javon Harrison. Yeah. Yeah. He didn’t quite do quite as well. LSU letting us down top ten

S2: in the high jump in London, baby. Top ten.

S1: Well, the other one one last point on the track is that we don’t know how many soft features NBC had to dump into the garbage can after Shikari Richardson

S3: was suspended through. Right. She was poised to be a sort of a breakout star. Right. She had a following and. Yeah, didn’t come through. So it didn’t break right for the American track team to get the attention that, you know, it normally does or maybe deserves. But, you know, that’s that’s fine. I mean, there’s always other Olympics.

S2: Thank you all for joining us on that.

S3: I was trying to be positive for Jesus. Thank you.

S2: So thank you, Stefan. Thank you. Slate plus members. We’ll be back with you whenever there’s another Olympics and also next week.

S1: And I’ll get to the rhythmic gymnastics curfuffle in twenty twenty four.

S2: Looking forward to.